Coo-Coo for Cocoa Beach

Yeah, regular Bunnyists know that we’re big fans of Sunshine State exploration. We’ve scoured the lower Keys, braved Orlando in season, and have contemplated a permanent hideout on the Gulf shores of Anna Maria/Longboat/Sarasota area.

But there’s more coastline in Florida than in any other state in the union, so in October we dusted off our Lewis & Clark membership cards, hitched up the Bunny Wagon, and aimed south, this time for points not yet traveled. Fall is our favorite time of year to visit Florida–the crowds are smaller, air and water temps are still in the 80s, and pricing tends to be less expensive (although that definitely seems to be trending for the worse).

Mrs Bunny’s research was stellar as usual, and we ended up on the Space Coast barrier island of Cocoa Beach. If you’re like us, your Cocoa Beach awareness comes almost solely from re-runs of the classic 1960s TV show “I Dream of Jeannie”.

Much of Cocoa Beach still holds fast to that Old School Florida look & feel, with snazzy classic beachfront properties that seem perfectly suited for a bartender who’s well-versed in proper Rob Roy, Manhattan, and Whiskey Sour mixology. You can practically hear the big brass jazz music wafting in the breeze. Like much of the mid-and upper part of Florida’s Atlantic side, the Space Coast is decidedly devoid of the South Beach glitz & glamor, which is just fine by us. They have a passion for strip clubs (we counted 4 within a few miles of our condo), barbecue joints (at least 5), and Thai restaurants (6+).

Cocoa Beach is also the East Coast’s surfing epicenter, um, dudes. Every day, dozens of boarders were out there doing their thing as the sun rose, which also lent that 1960s mood. Lessons, board rentals, and surfer lore were rampant all over town.

It’s also easy to reach. The closest airport is Orlando, about 50 minutes northwest (as are the Big O’s theme parks, if you’re so inclined). If you’re driving down, Cocoa sits about 15 minutes east of I-95, an hour or so south of Daytona.

LODGING

As usual, we steered clear of the whole hotel/motel thing, and went condo. Mrs. Bunny worked her magic, and decided on Chateau by the Sea  (5300 Ocean Beach Blvd, Cocoa Beach), a cheesy-named yet unassuming 5-story direct oceanfront property with off-street parking and heated pool that’s just steps from the famed Cocoa Beach Pier (more on that later). Our condo was a top floor end unit, with two bedrooms, two full baths, washer/dryer in unit, full kitchen, two balconies, amazing panoramic views, and free wi-fi. The unit was clean and decently furnished, and even had a walk-in closet loaded with beach stuf. With October pricing, this gem set us back just $100 per night. In our book, that’s a GB No-Brainer. In fact, it was so inexpensive that we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: insect infestation, loud neighbors, sulfur water, poltergeists? Nope, none of the above. It really was absolutely fine. Even our bed was comfortable.

The Cocoa Beach Pier was right there, and as kitchy as we’d hoped.

Does this look like a $100/night oceanfront condo?

There were a few mildly wacky things. For one, the shower curtain/rod in the master bath fell on our heads a few times while bathing. And not that we saw a gathering of interlopers (or any, really), but in order to get to the beach, you have to do this Get Smart operation of a key-lock gate leading into the pool area, circumnavigate the pool, and then unlock a second gate to reach the sand–a juggler’s challenge when you’re laden with sand chairs, cooler, beach bag, umbrella, etc. Still, that’s nit-picking of the first degree. We’d absolutely return, and with smiles on our faces.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS

FOOD

Mad Jacks Grillin Shack (6006 N. Atlantic Ave)

mouth....watering....

mouth….watering….

Yeah, honestly, the cutesy name scared the hell out of us. But after several locals pointed us that way, we listened. And we’re glad we did. Mad Jack’s is as real a barbecue joint as any we’ve found in NC, TX, or beyond. It’s sooo not the tourist trap we were envisioning, either. The owner was warm, laid back, and welcoming, and when he found out we were first-timers he had the server bring out samples of their pulled pork, brisket, and tri-tip for the table. Each were fantastic, and down-home authentic as a bar fight. They also make their own sauces (sorry, Aramark), which were equally amazing. But be warned: their “extremely hot hot sauce” lives up to its name. Our oldest son had it on the Maverick Burger (which also features fresh jalapenos) and was sweating when he was done. The deadly sauce is so dee-lish that we ate it til we were mouth-on-fire like Lloyd and Harry, stopped til the heat went down and, then went right back for more.

The Sandbar (4301 Ocean Beach Blvd)

We love joints like these.

We love joints like these.

Sensing a theme here? We didn’t find a preponderance of fine dining whilst in the area, so when in Rome…The Sandbar is a classic beach shack dive, with great wings, huge sandwiches, and an extensive drink menu that would even keep Ozzy busy for awhile. The “Cat 5” Hurricane is mixed with five different rums (including Bacardi 151), yet went down smoothly, although it did strip some of the varnish off the table when I spilled a bit.

Entertainment/Shopping

3ARides (210 N. Orlando Avenue 321-868-8820) 3A offers private and group surfing lessons, and board and bike rentals, and the owner was a wealth of knowledge of all things Cocoa Beach. Our youngest (the athlete) went out with an instructor, and after a few expected wipeouts he was riding freely. We rented a board for him to try for a few days for around $50. Another point worth noting–we bought a few 2-for-$10 T-shirts with their logo on them. On the first wearing, one of them tore like I was wearing Kleenex. Given the price point, I didn’t expect much retribution, but after reaching out to the owner and letting him know what happened, he explained there was an acid washing error, apologized profusely and shipped two us new shirts that so far have held up just fine. Well done, sir.

Ron Jon Surf Shop (4151 N. Atlantic Avenue 321-799-8888) Iconic Ron Jon now boasts 12 locations up and down the East Coast, but this is the very first one. What started out as a simple shack has blown up into a superstore and attached resort, kinda like South of the Border without the urine smell. Prices are high, and the place is packed with surfers, surf posers, and general tourists, but there’s plenty to see and buy, and is worth at least a brief visit. 

The original Ron Jon surf shack has grown a tad.

The original Ron Jon surf shack has grown a tad.

Cocoa Beach Tennis Club (Tom Warriner Blvd, off Minutemen Causeway 321-868-3224) Tennis in Florida is a beautiful thing, which is why so many pros and coaches call it home. The Cocoa Beach Tennis Club is owned and run by the city’s Parks and Rec Dept; a first class facility that blows away the private clubs back home. CBTC has both clay and hard courts, as well as a pro shop, stringing, lessons, and a small clubhouse.

Membership DOES get you a price break, to be sure, as does being a resident. But the price for non-member, non-resident players? A paltry $7 per 90 minutes for clay, or $4 for hard court per player!  To compare, Cross Courts in Easton, MD charges more than $30 per hour per court for non-members, with no clay. Plus, the CBTC staff was laid back, and super-easy to work with.

Cocoa Beach Pier (401 Meade Ave 321-783-7549) This is a true slice of old school Florida. Walk onto the pier, with its collection of gift shops and food spots and it’s the Nixon Era all over again. Most of the pier is free to see, but it’ll cost ya a mean $2 to go all the way out to the end and spectate where the fishermen are doing their thing (you sort of need to meander to navigate your way out there too). But there’s a sweet little tiki bar out on the tip (be sure to ask for a “real” margarita) and live music in the afternoon, not to mention a Grade A people-watching opportunity.

the pier is a throwback o old school Florida

the pier is a throwback o old school Florida

THINGS TO AVOID GB "ewww" face

Mangoes @ International Palms Resort (1300 N Atlantic Ave 800-916-4339)              We passed this place on the main drag all week long, and the “Live Reggae Music Every Sunday Afternoon” sign lured us more every time we saw it. Come on, Sunday!!!

But such is life that the expectation never came close to the reality.

Mangoes is a beach bar attached to an aging “resort” hotel that had a 1980s heyday feel to it, at least on the outside. The bar itself is technically on the water, inasmuch as there’s nothing between it and the Atlantic, which is sorta over there. Walking in, we immediately picked up the scent of Ultimate Tourist Trap, but still, margaritas and reggae music were beckoning. So we found a table (place was maybe half-full), ordered drinks from sticky menus (I hate that), and took in the surroundings. First of all, the reggae was only half-live: two guys in bad Hawaiian shirts; one with an acoustic guitar, the other playing keys, with a pre-recorded backing track that sounded a lot like the organ store in the mall. No, we weren’t expecting Toots & the Maytals, but this was as true reggae as Taco Bell is authentic Mexican cuisine.

We sat through versions of ‘Red Red Wine’ and ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ that would’ve bored Mormons, and our cocktails and server were still MIA. So I went to the bar and explained our situation to the two tenders chilling out. One of them assured me that our waitress would be “right over”.

‘Right over’ is, of course, a relative term. Ten minutes later, we were still high and dry. And done. Mrs. Bunny told the bartender to cancel the order, and we split and went to the Sandbar instead. Maybe Mangoes’ food and drinks were amazing, and maybe Damien & Ziggy Marley sat in for the 2nd set. We’ll never know.

Conclusion

Cocoa Beach is a solid go-to for a family getaway. Water was warm, and the easy waves make it a great place to learn to surf. If you don’t require fancy, or have the need to see a Bentley Continental on every street corner, Coca is nice, reasonably clean, affordable, and rife with food and stuff-to-do options. It’s also a great spot to put a drink in your hand and your toes in the sand and simply watch the surfers surf, the pelicans dive, and the cruise ships come and go.

GB

Key West: Bunnies Amongst the Chickens

Route 1 ends, and the fun begins.

When I was a kid in SoCo (that’s Southern Connecticut to you and me, Russ), we lived not too far from this little amusement park in Rye Beach, NY known as Playland.

By today’s mega-park standards, it wasn’t much–kinda like Mini Me to Cedar Point’s Brad Pitt. But when the magic words “Wanna go to Playland?” were heard in our house, it was like Christmas, my birthday, and the last day of school all rolled into one, and I’d go completely outta my mind in anticipation.

Flash forward to adulthood. I get the same rush every time we head down to a tiny chunk of palm-treed rock at the bottom of the contiguous US that’s been a stomping ground for centuries for everyone from pirates to Monopoly Men industrial icons to US presidents.

Key West.

If you’ve never been, you should understand right up front that KW is not for everyone. Here’s a quick quiz to see if it’s what you’re looking for:

  1. Are you wound tighter than a Baptist baseball and have no desire to un-tighten?

  2. Is your regular bedtime no later than 10pm?

  3. Is Jeff Foxworthy your idea of a wild, cutting-edge entertainer?

If you answered YES to one or more of these questions, then…um…yeah, there are other vacation destinations in the Sunshine State that would almost certainly suit you better (lovely Amelia Island comes readily to mind).

But for those looking for something a little different, left-of-center, off the proverbial path, where the unexpected is an everyday norm, your Playland awaits.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s roll…

HOW WE LIKE TO GET THERE

Arriving at Key West Airport

Not a plethora of direct flights into Key West Airport, but even with a connection along the way it’s worth it. The lower Keys already feel 3rd World anyway, and this tiny airport definitely fits the bill. You walk off the plane onto the hot, sticky tarmac itself, and the message on the side of the terminal reads “Welcome to the Conch Republic”, a nod to their tongue-in-cheek cessation back in 1982.

The whole place is about the size of a Delaware K Mart.

Expect to pay about $25 for the 15 minute cab ride to the downtown/Duval St area. Expensive, but better than renting a car, as parking can really suck in the downtown area.

If you have a little more time, consider flying into Miami or Ft Lauderdale, renting something cool, and following the Florida Turnpike down to Overseas Highway, one of the all-time great scenic drives. On the downside, it’s mostly one lane in each direction, and dang easy to get trapped behind a long line of Winnebagos and trailered fishing boats. But the infinite blue panoramic view, especially from Seven Mile Bridge, is magically delicious.

WHERE WE LIKE TO STAY

There’s several fine hotels all over the island, but we honestly prefer Key West’s stellar B&Bs. Normally, I’m SO not a B&B guy, as I don’t understand the point of doilies, but KW-style can be a universe away from the B&B norm. 

If you can’t relax here, you need Valium.

Our favorite is the Mermaid & the Alligator (729 Truman Avenue). It’s not exactly cheap (around $300 a night in season), but the place is a classic Key West Victorian, circa 1904, with dark, oiled wood, high ceilings, wrap around balconies, warm breeze flow-thru, each room an autonomous theme (with private bath–bonus!). We chose the Audubon Room, with louvered patio doors that open out to the grotto, complete with exotic plants, plunge pool. and the sexy, original statue that inspired the inn’s name. The sun-dried tomato frittata and fresh-baked muffins we had for breakfast were delicious day-starters, for sure. And 4pm is afternoon wine time, complimentary for guests.

Mermaid & the Alligator is close enough to the action that you can walk to the bars and restaurants, yet you’re far enough away that the Last Call diehards aren’t peeing outside your window and singing slurred Buffett tunes at 4am.

One tiny little disclosure: M&A sits across the street from a Catholic church that kicks in the bell chimes about 7:30 am daily, so be aware if you’re a light (or late) sleeper.

Mrs. Bunny says: We prefer to be away from the bars for where we stay, sexy and fun are just a bunny skip away!

HOW WE LIKE TO GET AROUND

Like I said, car parking can be an expensive and time-sucking pain in the coconuts on and around Duval St. So instead, we rent scooters, which you can park just about anywhere, for free (just remember where you’ve parked, as they’re everywhere down there, and they all look the same! We’ve seen several hungover scooter-hunters wandering the streets the morning after).

Some rental companies will deliver them right to your door, and pick them up again when you’re done, at no extra charge. And they like to haggle too. I ended up getting 2 scooters for 3 days for $50 total, delivered, after a little wrangling. Talk to the front desk or concierge for a recommendation.

Mr. Bunny, riding his chopper through Old Town.

Scooters are super-easy to ride. Even Mrs. Bunny went from “yikes!” to “yahoo!” in about an hour. They’re automatic (so no gear shifting), they’re key start, and they have lockable storage under the seat. Top speed is roughly 40mph, but it takes about four days to hit it.

Mrs. Bunny says: Holy crap! I have never ridden a motorized bike, and omg it was scary at first. But after running around on some quiet side streets, I quickly got the hang of it. Mrs. Bunny advises to not drink and scooter. If going out for the evening, please walk. It’s a softer landing.

Other free-parking vehicle options: bicycles, electric golf cart-looking things.

FOOD

Key West is a foodie playground, and as always, we go local and avoid the chains. As you can probably guess, there’s plenty of fresh local fish like grouper, tuna, mahi mahi, ballyhoo, conch, shrimp, stone crabs (beware MD Steamed Blue Crab lovers: Stones are boiled and served chilled, no spice, w/mustard sauce for dipping. They’ve got a strange aftertaste that neither of us cared for), plus great steaks, French, Cuban, Spanish, Italian, even good bar food. Here’s a sampling of our favorites:

1. B.O.’s Fish Wagon (801 Caroline St)

Grilled Grouper sandwiches, fresh-cut fries, ice-cold beer….

Not gonna lie to ya; B.O’s is more of an open air shack than a restaurant, but that’s part of the charm. Fresh grouper and mahi mahi sandwiches (grilled or fried), fresh-cut fries, cold beers, and live blues and jazz music make the Shack a fantastic option for lunch or between pub snack. Figger about $10-$15 to fill your tank.

Mrs. Bunny says: Great place for a hangover, ’nuff said!

2. El Sibonay (900 Catherine Ave)

El Sibonay is on over on the quiet side of the island, and is, hands-down, the best Cuban food we’ve ever experienced. Even my Havana-born father was raving about their marinated pork, fried plantains, and cafe con leche.

This place ain’t first-date fancy. It’s lit up like a cafeteria, you’ll almost certainly have to wait (outside) for a table, and they don’t even bother taking your name (you get a number when you get there). But not only is it fantastic food, the prices are unbelievable (that’s GOOD unbelievable!).

Mrs. Bunny says: Dinner was two orders of marinated pork with sides, black bean soup, a pitcher of homemade sangria, and two flans for dessert = $42 WITH TIP! Furthermore, we could have shared an entree as the portions were HUGE! Still have cravings for their food. Awesome.

A&B Lobster House (700 Front St)

Touristy, yet amazing, A&B is a Key West institution. This is a world class lobster house, with an expansive view of the harbor. The top floor is fancy-schmancy gourmet, and expensive (about $75 a head for dinner + drinks), with both fresh Maine and local spiny lobster on the menu.

Downstairs, Alonzo’s is more lax, and offered a Happy Hour (even on Saturday) that featured cheap drinks and 2-for-1 seafood apps.

(“Only in Key West” side note: while deciding what we wanted to eat at Alonzo’s after several hours of Duval Crawling, I felt something poking me in the back. I turned, and this fairly hammered little woman at the next table says “ya gotta try thish here smoked bluefishhhh. F*cking amazing!” and then proceeds to slide the plate onto our table. So we dug in. The smoked fish was damn good, and her much-saner boyfriend was a cab owner who ended up taking us back to the airport a few days later for only $12.)

AVOID: Mangia Mangia (900 Southard St)    

The only thing worse than their mediocre pasta dishes is their painstaking attention to rude and disinterested service. Picture Olive Garden with far less flavor and staffed by NYC bus drivers.

Mrs. Bunny says: While I will admit to being a bit ‘under the weather’ for this dining experience, I did wake up the next day remembering a certain level of rudeness permeating my buzz!! No fun!

DRINKS & NIGHTLIFE

Now we’re getting to the heartbeat of Key West. They make alcohol an art form down there, with diversity, creativity, and open-arms attitude. Sure, you don’t HAVE to drink while you’re there, but that’d be like going to church and avoiding all the religion parts.

They’re pretty lax about drinking down there, provided that you’re not acting like a raging asshole. For example, there’s this little bar on the Duval St sidewalk that’s basically like a newsstand. No idea what it’s called, but you can’t miss it. You can grab a beer or cocktail there, and just head on down the street with it, no worries. And if you’re in one bar, and suddenly decide to roll to the next place, you just do it, drink in hand. Just be sure to ask for a to-go cup.

And look: KW has more bars than Alaska has ice cubes. It’s impossible to hit them all, unless you live there, and you’re independently wealthy and constantly thirsty. We’ve only scratched the surface ourselves.

Irish Kevin’s (211 Duval St)

Mrs. Bunny enjoys a Harp while Jeff Harris performs.

I know it says “nightlife” at the top of this section, but Irish Kevin’s also offers…uh…MORNINGlife, as beers and live acoustic music can start as early as 10am every day of the week during season. Kevin’s is 100% touristy, but that’s cool because it’s a total trip. You may be coaxed by the onstage performer to kiss your significant other when you walk in (cheers will ensue), you may be part of the “running of bulls” where a group of bearded patrons with viking helmets chases a female customer down the street, and you might be heckled when you leave for not sticking around.

Mrs. Bunny says: As my friends/family will confirm. Irish Kevin’s is always the first place I lose the ability to spell while texting about the great time I’m having. 

Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval St)

Basically right next door to Irish Kevin’s, Sloppy’s may be the best-known watering hole on the planet, made famous by Papa Ernest Hemingway (albeit at their original location, about a block and a half away). Sloppy’s sits on a corner, with open entry all the way around that brings in the breeze, street sounds, and thirsties. Like Kevin’s, it’s always a party.

You gotta do Sloppy’s at least once. Grab a drink, call your friends, and make them jealous as hell as you wave to them at the webcam out on their Duval side. And if you get lucky, maybe you’ll catch the great Pat Dailey performing on Sloppy’s stage. Pat is another KW institution, in his mid-60s, and still a wildman.

Bull & Whistle (224 Duval St) 

Yeah, the Bull is a solid go-to, with live rock bands day and night in season, and there’s decent pool tables up on their second floor. But what REALLY makes this place like no other is what’s on their THIRD floor rooftop.

It’s the Garden Of Eden, clothing optional bar.

That tropical area on the roof? That’s the Garden of Eden, a clothing-optional bar.

You just don’t see these kinds of things in places like Davenport, Iowa, do ya. Like Sloppy’s, it’s worth checking out at least once. Yes, you will probably see naked people (unless it’s c-c-c-COLD out!), no, you don’t have to disrobe if you don’t want to. No, it’s not an orgy (but we HAVE witnessed some interesting dance floor escapades!). Yes, it’s one hell of a good time.

Mrs. Bunny says: Ladies, it’s not as bad as you think. Sure, there’s the occasional fat, bald, naked guy in view. But for the most part it’s very laid-back and relaxed, with less rampant testosterone than you might think. 

Honorable Mentions:

1. La Te Da (1125 Duval St)                                                                                                    

Cool little outdoor bar with live jazz music + cabaret  that has both hetero and homosexual clientele. Great option if you want something a bit more upscale and less turbocharged than down on the louder end of Duval. Last time we were there, this cool couple we met from Pittsburgh was having so much fun on the dance floor, they fell down the stairs and right out the front door, with a potted plant landing on top of them for a great cartoon ending! No injuries, so it was funny.

2. Schooner’s Wharf (202 William St)                                                                           

Whenever I hear the term “Salty Dog”, I immediately think of Schooner’s. Old-school Key West joint, over on the waterfront. Apparently this was Jimmy Buffett’s hangout back in the early 70s, when he was just another unknown singer/songwriter.

OTHER COOL THINGS

So, besides drinking, eating, and looking at naked people, KW does have some other options for your attention.

1. Ernest Hemingway House (907 Whitehead St)                                               

Hemingway’s Key West house is right off the chain.

Sure, as I writer I geeked out when I got to check out Papa’s Key West home, but it’s a good time for most adults (kids would likely be bored, but why are you bringing kids to Key West in the first place?). The house is magnificent, with tons of photos and memorabilia, a swimming pool that cost several times more than the average annual household income when it was built, the latest generation of Hemingway’s family of six-toed cats running around, and his writing loft in the outbuilding, complete with the original typewriter.

2. Mallory Square (1 Whitehead St)          

Come for the world-class sunsets, stay for the world-class street performers. The Square gets packed as the day goes on, so arrive early for a prime spot along the rail, grab a snack, and wait for Mother Nature to break out the paint brush.

Juggling unicyclists, fire eaters, and more do their thing in Mallory Square.

3. Butterfly Conservatory (1316 Duval St)    

Exactly what you think it is, you’re surrounded by hundreds of technicolor moths as you tour the conservatory. Guys, yeah, I know, it sounds about as exciting as shopping for curtains, but it honestly was pretty cool.

4.  Fort Zachary Taylor State Park  (601 Howard England Way)

Key West’s most popular beach, but that’s not saying much. The sand part is just fine, lush and tropical, with the famous “mileage” sign, and a decent snack bar. But like most beaches in the keys, there’s a ton of rock and coral under the water’s surface. Wear water shoes, flip flops, something. Or just chill under the palm trees, because the view is unparalleled.

Zach Taylor’s mileage signpost is a photo op fave.

4. Southernmost Marker (201 Front St)

Another iconic photo op, this buoy typically has a line of folks waiting to snap a pic.  Took us about 10 minutes, chatting with a Dutch couple behind us, who ended up serving as our photographer.

Mr. & Mrs. Bunny, mugging for camera. Photo Credit: Some Dutch couple

5. Key West Cemetery (701 Passover Lane)

Like everything else down there, this cemetery isn’t your normal breed. Dating back to the 1840s, the graveyard has sections for Cuban Freedom Fighters from the Spanish American War, Confederate Navymen, and the Battleship Maine, plus some individual stones with memorable epitaphs (one woman’s reads “See? I told you I was sick.”)

BE AWARE OF…

Here’s some other info that might come in handy.

1. Chickens roam free

Key West has also become a top vacation destination for poultry.

These wandering KFC menu items date all the way back to the 19th century, when Key West was a fairly lawless fishing and sailing village. Cockfighting was a popular sport back then, mainly because ice dancing hadn’t been invented yet. When civic leaders tried to bring a little order to the island, they outlawed the feather-based brawls, so their owners either ate their warriors, or set them free. Waking up to ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ is completely normal down there.

2. Beach swimming isn’t great–Like I said, there’s rocks and coral aplenty as soon as you step into the sea, all through the Keys. If you’re jonesing for a true swim, your best bet is to head north up to Bahia Honda State Park, about 20 minutes north of Key West. Try their north side (to the left) as you enter. This is the best stretch of beach we’ve found, south of Miami. And, if you see something that looks kinda like a plastic, semi-inflated shopping bag floating on the top of the waves, don’t turn into Captain Cleanup and swim out for it. Chances are it’s a Portuguese Man o War, a fairly deadly type of jellyfish that, like an iceberg, is MUCH bigger under the water than what it looks like above it.

3. Strip Clubs–If you like to include adult entertainment in your vacation plans, KW has good (and some very bad) options.

The Good: Red Garter (208 Duval St) Across the street from Irish Kevin’s sits this gem of a gentlemen’s club. It’s clean, it’s not that expensive, and most importantly, the girls are pretty hot. Many (from what I’ve heard!) are from eastern Europe, and have the sexy accent to go with the sexy view. And ladies, we’ve found, no we’ve HEARD that it’s a perfectly fine and acceptable place for you to visit, with your man or on your own.

The Bad: Bare Assets (1029 Truman Ave) It’s no secret that strip clubs use sex to separate men from money. The good ones do it deftly and subtly. Bare Assets tries to do it with a sledgehammer. I must’ve had my idiot look on that night, because the bartender tried to give me the wrong change three separate times (really dude?), and several friendly ladies who stopped by to say hello between stage sessions tried to distract me so they could attempt to swipe bills from the tip stack under my beer bottle. Fail.

 Summary

It’s easy to fall in love with Key West’s beauty, charm, and “why worry?” attitude. And it’s consistent. No matter what’s going on in the world, or how much you’ve changed since your last visit, returning there still feels as comfortable and natural as a great old pair of jeans.

Lunch and margaritas at Fogarty’s, about an hour after we landed.

And it doesn’t take long to get into the Key West flow, once you arrive. Be prepared: you’ll likely be engaged in friendly conversation with complete strangers, you’ll probably try a food or drink you’ve never had before, you’ll almost certainly be in the general vicinity of drunk people, and you may decide to get a tattoo. But all that is the easy part.

The toughest thing to do is leave.

Got a Key West story or tip to share? Lay it on us.